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5 Ways Giving Is Good for You

13 Dec 2010 | Greater Good Science Centre

Holiday shopping can be terrifying, yes. But research suggests it's worth it: New studies attest to the benefits of giving-not just for the recipients but for the givers' health and happiness, and for the strength of entire communities.

Of course, you don't have to shop to reap the benefits of giving. Research suggests the same benefits come from donating to charities or volunteering your time, like at a soup kitchen or a homeless shelter.

A 2008 study by Harvard Business School professor Michael Norton and colleagues found that giving money to someone else lifted participants' happiness more that spending it on themselves (despite participants' prediction that spending on themselves would make them happier). Happiness expert Sonja Lyubomirsky, a professor of psychology at the University of California, Riverside, saw similar results when she asked people to perform five acts of kindness each week for six weeks.

These good feelings are reflected in our biology. In a 2006 study, Jorge Moll and colleagues at the National Institutes of Health found that when people give to charities, it activates regions of the brain associated with pleasure, social connection, and trust, creating a "warm glow" effect. Scientists also believe that altruistic behavior releases endorphins in the brain, producing the positive feeling known as the "helper's high."

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